|  Find a Doctor   |  Getting to NUHCS   | Appointment   | Contact Us   | Newsroom  |  Make a Gift  | About NUHS  | Protecting Your Data

Home > Our Services > Conditions and Treatments > Aortic Aneurysm & Aortic Dissection

Aortic Aneurysm & Aortic Dissection



What is it?

The aorta is the main blood vessel in the human body. From the heart, blood is pumped through the aorta, where it is then distributed to the body.


The aorta is divided into the ascending aorta, aortic arch, descending aorta and the abdominal aorta, supplying blood to the abdominal organs before dividing to provide arteries for each leg.


The elastic walls (made up of three layers) of the aorta help it to respond to the high pressure caused by blood ejecting from the heart.


Aortic Aneurysm : It is a general term for the swelling (dilation) of the aorta. This usually means that there is a weakness in the wall of the aorta at that location as it is being stretched. Although this may cause some discomfort occasionally, the bigger concern is that there is a risk of the aorta rupturing which will cause massive internal bleeding and severe pain.


Aortic Dissection : It is a term for a tear in the wall of the aorta. This causes the layers of the wall of the aorta to be forced apart when the blood flows between the layers. If the dissection tears the aorta completely apart, rapid blood loss will occur. Aortic Dissection is a medical emergency. 


Back to Top


How is it diagnosed?


There are several ways that doctors can diagnose and follow aortic aneurysms and/or dissections. Different tests will help to identify the presence of aneurysm as well as help the doctors determine the treatment plans and follow up plans.


Chest X-Ray

Chest X-rays are not the best studies, but they help suggest and alert doctors of aortic pathology and prompt further tests.


CT Scan

Often referred to as "CAT Scan", this is the preferred method of imaging aortic pathology at both the initial presentation and also at follow-ups. However, intravenous contrast is needed for the aorta CT scan and it is cannot be used for some patients with kidney problems or allergies.



Also known as an echo, an echocardiogram is a type of ultrasound test that uses high-pitched sound waves sent through a device so that the moving images of the heart can be seen on a screen. The echocardiogram helps to provide further information about the aorta and it is particularly useful when evaluating the aortic valve, ascending aorta and the heart.


Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

The MRI is another useful tool used to examine the aorta. The images obtained are similar to those received by a CT scan, however, unlike CT, the MRI does not use ionizing radiation, but a powerful magnetic field. Also, the intravenous contrast used is better tolerated by patients.


Back to Top



What are the symptoms?


  • Most aortic aneurysms usually have no symptoms
  • Most are diagnosed from CT scans which are performed either from a routine check up or an evaluation of lung disease etc...
  • Symptoms may occur if the aneurysm presses on nearby organs or tissue or is the aneurysm leads to a dissection. Symptom includes:
      • Severe tearing pain in chest or back
      • Stroke
      • Cold or numb extremities
      • Abdominal pain


What is the treatment?


Aortic aneurysm treatment depends on the size, location and your state of health.

If your aneurysm is small and you have no symptoms

      • "watch and wait" approach will be suggested by your doctor
      • Regular scheduled images of the aneurysm to check its size


If you aneurysm is large enough or growing more than 1 cm per year


Aortic Dissection treatment

      • Blood pressure and heart rate control while aorta heals
      • Risk of death for descending thoracic aortic dissection is about 10%
      • Risk goes up to 30% should surgery be required, therefore, patients are treated with medication
      • Once the acute dissection heals, the control of blood pressure eliminates the need for surgery
      • Lifelong monitoring of the aorta diameter is needed because a previously dissected descending thoracic aorta may enlarge and rupture.



Cardiac Electrophysiology Study (EPS) and Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)



Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy





Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance




Coronary Computered Tomography Angiography




Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators



Permanent Cardiac Pacemaker Insertion




Discharge Advice - Electrophysiology Study (EPS) & Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)





Back to Top